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Jenifer Lewis
Born Jenifer Jeanette Lewis
January 25, 1957 (1957-01-25) (age 53)
Kinloch, Missouri, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1979–present

Jenifer Jeanette Lewis (born January 25, 1957) is an American film and television actress and singer.


Early life

Lewis attended college at Webster University in Saint Louis, Missouri. Soon after she arrived in New York City, Lewis shutup on Broadway in a small role in Eubie (1979), the musical based on the work of Eubie Blake. She next landed the role of Effie White in the workshop of the Michael Bennett-directed musical Dreamgirls, but when the show moved to Broadway, Bennett chose Jennifer Holliday for the role. Undaunted, Lewis accepted a position as a Harlette, a back-up singer for Bette Midler which led to Lewis' first TV appearances on Midler's HBO specials. She also landed her first screen role as a result, appearing as one of the buxom chorines in the 'Otto Titsling' production number in the Midler vehicle Beaches (1988). At the same time, Lewis was developing her nightclub act, The Diva Is Dismissed, an autobiographical comedy and music show in NYC cabarets. She performed the show off-Broadway at the Public Theatre.


In 1987, Lewis was hired as the Pre-Show announcer on the Star Tours ride at Disneyland. In 1988, Lewis relocated to Los Angeles. In 1992, she was cast as one of the back-up singers to Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. Goldberg sponsored several performances of The Diva Is Dismissed as a possible HBO series. In 1992 to 1993, she played Dean Davenport in the sixth and final season of A Different World. She also had a recurring role as Will Smith's Aunt Helen on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, as well as stints on a few episodes of In Living Color, reprising several of her characters from her nightclub act. Also in 1993, she played the mother of Tupac Shakur's character in Poetic Justice.

Although she auditioned for role of Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love Got to Do with It? she landed the role of Turner’s mother. In 1994 she followed with other supporting roles, including Mrs. Coleman the Unemployment Office lady in Renaissance Man and as Whoopi Goldberg's sister in Corrina, Corrina. In 1995, she was cast in maternal roles to Kadeem Hardison in Panther and to Larenz Tate in Dead Presidents before she accepted the role of a lesbian judge on the short-lived CBS series Courthouse. Lewis returned to the big screen as Theresa Randle's telephone sex line boss in Spike Lee's Girl 6 . She then played Whitney Houston's character's mother in Penny Marshall's The Preacher's Wife.[1]

In 1999, she starred in a Robert Townsend made-for-TV film Jackie's Back, a mockumentary about the struggling comeback of a diva in turmoil. She recently appeared in The Cookout, Nora's Hair Salon, Shark Tale and Cars. She was in a few episodes of Friends as Monica Gellar's co-worker. Since 2000, she has played Lana Hawkins on the Lifetime television medical drama Strong Medicine, the show ended February 2006. In 2006, she had a featured role as the wedding planner in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion.

In one episode of That's So Raven she played the titular character's maternal grandmother, who has psychic powers. She recently starred as a judge in Boston Legal and appeared in the 2008 film Meet The Browns. On April 22, 2008, Lewis replaced Darlene Love as Motormouth Maybelle in Broadway's Hairspray, a role that was originally written for her.

Singing career

Lewis has performed for many years on Broadway and has lent her vocals to many of the television and movie projects that she has been a part of including the theme song for her most recognizable role: Strong Medicine.[2]

Lewis' most recent singing role came with her role in the movie musical The Princess and the Frog.

Personal life

Lewis's parents are Randall (1929-1974) and Helen (1933-)

Lewis suffers from bipolar disorder, with which she was diagnosed in 1997.[3] In 1988, Lewis married her boyfriend of 1 year Joseph Hill. They adopted a ten month old daughter in 1991 named Patrice. In February 2006, Lewis announced she was pregnant to her first biological child. She gave birth to Cole Randall Lewis Hill on November 3, 2006.

Along with her adoptive daughter and biological son, Lewis has three stepchildren, Nicolette (b.1978), Kevin (b. 1979), and Alexxis (b. 1984).


Year Title Role
1988 Beaches Diva
1992 Sister Act Michelle
Frozen Assets Jomisha
1993 Poetic Justice Anne
Meteor Man Mrs. Williams
A Different World Dean Dorothy Dandrige Davenport
What's Love Got to Do With It? Zelma Bullock
Undercover Blues Cab Driver
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Michelle
1994 Renaissance Man Mrs Coleman
Corrina, Corrina Jevina
1995 Panther Rita
Dead Presidents Mrs. Curtis
1996 The Preacher's Wife Marguerite Coleman
Girl 6 Boss No 1—Lil
1998 The Temptations Mama Rose Franklin
The Mighty Mrs Addison
1999 Mystery Men Lucille
Get Bruce Herself
Blast From the Past Dr Aron
Jackie's Back Jackie Washington
2000 Panther
Cast Away Becca Twig
2001 The Brothers Louise Smith
Dancing in September Judge Warner
2002 Little Richard Muh Penniman
Juwanna Mann Aunt Ruby
2004 The Cookout Lady Em
Shark Tale Motown Turtle (voice)
Nora's Hair Salon Nora
2006 Dirty Laundry Aunt Lettuce
Cars Flo (voice)
Madea's Family Reunion Milay Jenay Lori
2007 Who's Your Caddy? Mrs. Hawkins
2008 Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns Vera Brown
2009 The Princess and the Frog Mama Odie (voice)
Not Easily Broken Mary 'Mama' Clark
2010 Hereafter
2011 Cars 2 Flo (voice)

She also starred in the "Brothers" as the mother of Morris Chestnut


  1. ^ Lane, Clay (January 7, 2009). "Jenifer Lewis: That's my mama!". Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Dulin, Dann (May 2005). "Wired for Change". A&U magazine. Retrieved 20 February 2010. 

External links

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